Never ask them to say ‘cheese!’ and other tips for photographing your own children at home

People say to me all the time, oh you must have sooooo many amazing photographs of your children. I guess it’s assumed that taking portraits of a professional standard is a completely effortless thing that I am just able to do when and where I like. Hmm, I tell them, yes I do have some great photographs of them but probably not as many as I’d like or should. Customers tell me all the time how hard they find it hard to get a great photo of their children, that’s why they’ve come to me, but truth is, it’s exactly the same for me as it is for them. Photographing your own children is harder than it looks. Most kids don’t want to be photographed, it’s boring and restrictive, and because it’s you that’s photographing them, they’re going to be awkward about it. My children are totally and utterly over it!

Let’s think about indoors. I can hear you thinking, it’s OK for you, you have a purpose built studio but a studio is only a plain, neutral space where flash is bounced around. You can apply this principal at home. Choose a light room, try and unclutter the background as much as possible and turn that harsh camera flash OFF. Do you have patio doors? Use those as your studio light. Place your child in front of them, see the catchlights reflected in their eyes. Look at the above image of my three sitting in a play-house type structure, they’re sheltered by walls and a ceiling, with the light flooding through the front, similar to patio doors.

Find an interesting prop!

Kids don’t want to sit still and I accept that, but I do try and ground them in the setting somehow. I give them something to climb on, or sit on, something new and interesting like this woven pouffe (above). Thsis really makes it easier for me, and although you’ve engineered the photographs, they end up looking very natural. Bribery is OK as long as it works, I do rattle the sweetie tin for my customers’ children when I feel they’re runninf out of steam a bit. The thing is, my lot expect a sweetie reward every time the shutter clicks, even if it’s a quick snap of them in Book Week costumes before going to school. “Can we have our lolly now?” they ask. Really? I have to bribe you for one photo? Unbelievable!

To get the best out of my lot in the studio, I really need another pair of hands, an assistant, usually in the form of their father, to engage with them, relax them. Looking through a lens and entertaining a child is incredibly hard to do at the same time, I end up getting a bit stressed and flustered, so if Dad can give me 10 minutes of Peekaboo while I snap away at the baby in her best dress….job done! I’m always so grateful for clients who go the extra mile to do daft things to make their children smile. Their is nothing like a parent who will jump around like a loony while tickling the photographer (me!) on her head with a toy monkey. It’s impressive and the photos are just fab.

Little ones love a chair, getting on and off, pushing it around the floor

So, let’s skip the waffle, this should really help:

  1. Don’t ask them to say cheese! We all do it, but don’t bother. You’ll end up with an entirely unnatural smile that just isn’t them at all. It doesn’t work.
  2. Recruit someone to help you amuse the children and make them smile.
  3. Use a prop to encourage the child to stand/sit still and make it easier on you.
  4. If you want a couple of winning photographs, plan on snapping around 75. That’s completely normal. You’ll end up deleting or editing most of them, but there will be a handful that really stand out. Quality is better than quantity.
  5. Don’t get overly fixated with them smiling in the photographs. Sure, it’s important to capture their beautiful beaming face but often a serious, thoughtful expression can reveal so much. There is a real intensity to their eyes. These can be some of the most powerful images.
  6. Choose a light and uncluttered room, turn off the flash on your camera for a soft, natural effect.
  7. Don’t tip them (and you!) over the edge, and know when to call it a day. You’ll sense when they’re getting sick of the camera and you don’t want to scar them for life.
  8. Don’t over-edit. It’s fun to resort to filters but don’t overcook the images, there’s a difference between enhancing an image and, well, totally ruining it. Less is usually more.
  9. Keep checking! Take a photo and see what you need to change. Is the image too bright? Move the child away from the window slightly. It can be trial and error which is absolutely fine.